SABOTAGE(Republic,1939) B&W.67 minutes – Blu Ray released by Olive Films. $29.95 http://olivefilms.com/product/sabotage/ (also available on DVD $19.95 )
SABOTAGE is one of those films that very few film fans may be aware of. Not to be confused with Hitchcock’s earlier SABOTAGE (aka A WOMAN ALONE, General Film Distributors,1936) or his later SABOTEUR (Universal,1942), it does have certain parallels with those two films, especially the latter film.
While not a classic, it is a solid example of film making that came out of the Hollywood Dream Factory regular to fill cinemas.
Filmed under the title ‘HEADLINE NEWS’, it had been announced that Sidney Salkow was supposed to direct. When it went into production on August 12,1939 (wrapping by the end of the month), it was under the direction of Harold Young (who had directed the Leslie Howard THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL (London Films,1934) and later several Universal horror films like THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942).
At the time, studios were being cautious of making product that might end up banned in Europe, and the U.S. was going through an isolationist mood.
Republic made most of their films for rural America, keeping their budgets low to make profit easier. Not being as dependent on overseas income, they were freer to tackle issues of spies. They may also have been encouraged by the box office returns by the then daring CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY (Warner Brothers, released in May,1939), which did outstanding business despite being banned in certain countries.
War began September 1,1939 when Germany invaded Poland and in response England and France both declared war in response. Within a month and a half (October 13,1939) SABOTAGE was on movie screens.
While the Republic film does not name who is doing the espionage (as the United States would not officially enter the conflict for over two more years), audiences would infer that it was German interference going on in American factories.
Tommy Grayson(Gordon Oliver ,a good looking character actor who later switched back and forth from acting and producing for television on shows like PETER GUNN(Spartan,1958-1961) ,a mechanic at the Midland Aircraft Corporation ,has convinced actress Gail(Arleen Whelan, who played Sarah Clay in YOUNG MR LINCOLN,Fox,1939) to leave showbiz and marry him .She was afraid of the small town reaction to actors (we see later how they look down on her, so she was not being paranoid) but is convinced to stay when Tommy’s family goes out of their way to embrace her and welcome her.
The day before their marriage, a new plane is being tested, and the whole town turns out to watch the test flight. However, the test ends in disaster, with the plane crashing and burning (superb as always model work by the uncredited Lydecker brothers).
There have been other failures due to engines from the plant, and tests point to Tommy, as all the failing pistons came from his bench.
Major Matt Grayson (Charley Grapewin,most beloved as Uncle Henry in THE WIZARD OF OZ(MGM) from the same year) , and his Civil War Vet friends Mel(J.M. Kerrigan, THE INFORMER(RKO,1935)) ,Smitty (Frank Darien (Uncle John in THE GRAPES OF WRATH ,Fox,1940),and Eli (Lucien Littlefield(Dr Horace in SONS OF THE DESERT (Hal Roach,1933)) investigate to clear Tommy’s name .
The film surprisingly shows the dark side of Middle America (they readily turn on the Grayson family, blaming them for the factory closing). However, it also shows that when we work together we can defeat evil (subtly done by having vets from both side of the Civil War working together).
SABOTAGE is full of wonderful character actors, including Joe Sawyer as Gardner, who also works at the factory with Tommy. Sawyer is one of those actors who could go from good guy to bad guy with ease, and be acceptable as both.
Towards the end of the film, there is a scene that harkens back to the underworld capture of M(Nero-Film,1931), though here it is the vets from the various wars who capture the spies and bring them to the factory. Extra tension is within the scene as there is a bomb planted by the terrorists that is set to go off shortly.
The old vets are played very slapstick to provide comic relief throughout the movie so that they solve and fix everything is a nice twist.
One little continuity goof at the very end of the film has the happy hero & heroine flying off for the honeymoon. You see that a string of pots and pans afe attached to the tail as it taxis for takeoff, but when the plane is in flight the items are not there.
Olive Films has released a superlative clean and sharp print of SABOTAGE. The mono sound is pop and hiss free. The optional English subtitles ae clear and easy to read. There are no extras, though that such an overlooked film is released in such a magnificent print is reason enough to buy it.
I don’t recall seeing this film airing on Turner Classics Movie, so for many, this will be the discovery of a small gem of a film.
Kevin G Shinnick
(note -frame grabs are not mine and do not do justice to the sharpness of the actual print).